Targa Miata
April 14, 2010 - Welcome to California!
Three days of track time with two drivers, mixing it up with faster cars. It's a good thing this little car is tough.
The first day was sunny and beautiful. The track day was run by the Checkered Flag Racing Association, which is basically a grown-up version of the Red Rock Racers I run in Grand Junction. Sessions were 30 minutes long and full of some very serious machinery. Even the novice group had a Porsche GT3, a fast little Caterham and a couple of Nissan GT-Rs. The Nissans were being driven extremely quickly, and were really in the wrong group. Overall, a very experienced bunch that were good to share the track with.
The goal for the Friday session was for it all to be about Janel. She's spent so long hanging around as I run around at the track it only seemed fair for her to have her own track day. So our friend Rick Weldon offered to give her personal instruction, and I was pit crew.
We started off doing a sound check. The limit was 92 dB, and we went by the meter at 93.3 dB. After a certain amount of chaos on the part of the organizers who all told us different things, we found that by holding 4th gear through turn 5 we tripped the meter at 88 dB. So there's that solved then.
Rick was running behind, so I went out with Janel for the first three sessions. We had a good time and everything seemed to be working fairly well other than a car that was very grouchy when cold. The biggest problem was dealing with the traffic.
Rick showed up just as we left for the third session, so he only got to ride with Janel for a couple of sessions. She was all warmed up and ready to go, though. He's a fantastic instructor and not only helped her with her lines, but also with how to deal with traffic. She's a great learner, and if you tell her to go full throttle through a certain corner without lifting, she'll do it!
I was running a stopwatch, and we saw her times drop by about 12 seconds per lap - partly due to the way that she dealt with faster cars passing her. The big grin is from her last session, when she spent two or three laps holding off a 911 GT3 (really!) before the monster power on the straight finally proved to be too much for the little Miata. She was putting down consistent 2:00 laps with only a few tenths of a second of variation, plus one solid 1:59.28. You can see her session on the video page. After seeing the times, Rick commented that she'd be a great endurance driver. On the way to dinner a couple of nights later, she asked me how you get involved in endurance racing...
Does she look happy to you?
entry 748 - tags: janel, laguna seca, track
April 14, 2010 - After Janel had so much fun on Friday, it was time to meet the hundreds of Miatas that had come for Miatas at MRLS.
The plan was for me to drive the car in the fastest A group and take people for rides, and Janel would drive in the C group. However, when I first jumped in the car, I discovered that it was very unhappy under part throttle. It was too late for me to do any more tuning on the car, but spending a single session with a laptop jammed under a seat would have made a big difference. Still, it was easy enough to drive around. I also discovered that while my spare rubber was up to pressure, I had the tires on the car about 7 psi low. Whoops. So the car should have been faster on Friday for Janel if I'd been able to take a quick test drive. Sorry!
For the rest of the weekend, the car pounded around and around the track. The other cars from Flyin' Miata were under orders not to run at 10/10ths to ensure they'd last, but that didn't apply to the Targa car. So I ran it pretty hard, and I know Janel did as well. This is one solid little critter, and so much fun.
The new suspension wasn't a big hit with Janel, and it certainly did allow a lot of lean. Still, it put down the power well and seemed friendly enough. I wanted just a bit less understeer but didn't want to mess with it after Janel had spent so long honing things with Rick.
I spent a lot of my time staying out of trouble with the A group, populated with winged beasts and drivers that were considerably faster than me.
Janel had a different problem. She was much faster than everyone in her group, and so she spent most of the time waiting for the slower driver to point her by. It was frustrating. She really should have been in the B group.
Sunday started off cold and looking like rain, and it started to sprinkle fairly early. Janel came into the Corkscrew with the back end of the car quite loose and almost looped it, and I found the grip level changing on every corner. So we parked the car, and shortly afterwards the skies opened. The track was closed early due to the deep water, and we packed up to go home.
A pretty good weekend.
entry 749 - tags: laguna seca, track
April 14, 2010 - New videos have been uploaded!
There's a video of Janel's fastest session on Friday as well as a couple with me driving in the middle of a fairly entertaining group. Videos
On Saturday, the event organizers gathered a few of us together for a video shoot. There was a hand-held camera in one of the cars, and the rest of us were basically tasked with putting on a good show. Two Spec Miata drivers and a couple of modified super Miatas - and my little rally toy. I was probably the least experienced track driver of the bunch, so I had to pedal pretty hard just to keep up! The extra horsepower of the Targa car let me reel in the Spec Miatas most of the time, but not always.
Still, it was like a little race. One of us would take the lead, then allow someone else to pass. Meanwhile, the camera car was zooming back and forth. I certainly wasn't the fastest driver or car in the group, but I consoled myself with the thought that if there was a speedbump in the middle of the front straight, I was the only person who could take it at full speed!

The Targa Miata is one solid little car. This picture was taken after Janel ran for a full day on Friday, and then she and I both drove the car on Saturday. On Saturday, the car was on the track for 20 minutes, then parked for 20 minutes before it went out again. And that's the state of one of the tires. A tire that we used in the Targa. A week long race, followed by a bunch of local track days, followed by two days at Laguna Seca last year, then repeat the local track days and two more days at Laguna. And it's only about half worn! Amazing.
entry 750 - tags: play, laguna seca, video
April 25, 2010 - Some pictures from the Laguna event.
More are coming. This is the first session on Saturday (it must be, I'm not wearing my driving suit) and that's John Anker coming down the Corkscrew behind me. He was never behind me for long!
Photo by Mark Booth.
entry 751 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - Mark got a this great shot of Janel at speed.
I'm not sure where it was taken - it's a right hand turn, so I'm thinking it's either turn 4 or 10, and something it telling me it's 4 - but I really like it.
Photo by Mark Booth.
entry 752 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - A shot of our video session from outside turn 2.
I'd just steamed by the whole group on the straight (with their acquiescence, as there's no way I could power by a couple of those cars), and was taking a wide line into 2 to let that Spec Miata run inside me for a cool pass. The camera is in the red car about halfway back. This was fun stuff. The photo was taken right at 2:00 in this video.
Photo by Mark Booth
entry 753 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - Laguna Seca is a pretty track.
Quite a change from the dusty desert. Here's Janel about to dive over the edge into the Corkscrew. Photo by Got Blue Milk.
entry 754 - tags: laguna seca
April 4, 2012 - Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca!
Always a fun track. On the first session of our two-day visit, I got my first chance to try out the car on a big track with an engine up to full power and a track-prepped suspension and tire package. It was a lot of fun. It's been two years since I was at Laguna, so I was still feeling my way around. But the car felt pretty good, well balanced and very strong.
Then the heavens opened. On my next session, it was raining so hard that I was hydroplaning all over the place and struggling for any sort of traction. Add in some bad visibility from both the rain and windshield fog, and I pulled in after two very sketchy laps. There was nothing to be gained by throwing the car away and I wasn't comfortable. My top speed was lower than it had been on the Targa, and in that case there were times when I was following a faint yellow center line through the fog on an unknown road. But there you have it, I wasn't up to speed mentally yet.
The rain tapered off for the next few sessions, and grip levels started to come back. It was entertaining slithering around in the corners, but I would have preferred the ability to use full throttle once in a while just for fun! I can report that there's no concern about water inhalation with the new intake, though. Even through the comically deep puddle at pit exit.
I was getting a few odd messages from the steering in the fourth session, though. I was convinced that the wheel was off-center in places. But not always. And the car seemed to understeer sometimes. It was making me wonder. I pulled off the front wheels and checked everything over but I couldn't find anything. I even had Janel turn the steering wheel as I held the tire in place - she won and the tire turned. Puzzling.
The track had dried out, the sun was shining - it was time to go and have some real fun in the last session of the day. The first lap was exciting, as my passenger and I got released right in the middle of a big group of experienced drivers of varying levels of aggression and car speed. Lots of passing, both by us and of us. On the second or third lap, I went to turn into the fast turn 10 and the car just didn't turn enough. You don't get a second chance at that one so we went sailing off the outside of the corner. Luckily, it's right by the pit exit so we carried on and back into the garage.
I pulled everything apart and checked things out again. All of my alignment cams were in the correct location - after the alignment cam slipped at the Summer Camp, I'd marked all of their positions - but I did find one that was a bit looser than the others. My toe plates indicated that the toe wasn't right, so I figured I'd slipped again. I checked the condition of the tie rods, the inner and outer ball joints, everything I could think of. Nothing. So I torqued everything up hard and headed home.

It was bugging me. I hadn't had the usual clunking noises of slipping alignment, and the car hadn't seemed darty enough for the amount of toe-out I'd found. Driving the truck in to the track the next morning, I was still trying to figure out what was going on. Nothing was coming to mind, but I didn't feel like I'd found it. I jumped into the car and headed out to line up for the track - and with a squeal, the steering wheel moved 90 degrees off center. Then I moved it back with another squeal. The wheel was obviously not connected to the front wheels. So it was back to the pits again and more time on the jacks. Again, I had Janel turn the wheel while I restrained the hub - and this time I was able to make things slip. Once I pulled off the new undertray and splitter, a shiny spot on the steering rack told the tale. The rack was moving. The mount on one side had broken. I got lucky, the failure could have been a whole lot worse than a ride through the gravel. Imagine if it had broken at the Targa!
So that was the end of my weekend. What a shame, I'd been looking forward to having the engine back at full sea level power again and I barely got to use it due to the conditions.
Janel fared even worse, she'd only managed three laps before the rain came and later in the day she missed out because I was trying to figure out what was going on. Luckily, our good friend Rick Weldon stepped in and sent her out in his car. It's got a character very much like the old 4-cylinder version of the Targa Miata, and Janel proceeded to have a great time. She took me out as a passenger in one session and showed me what I was missing - those big sweeping fast corners at a bit of a slip angle that you just don't get to do on the Targa. So that worked out.

So why was the toe off? Probably because I hadn't managed to get the wheels straight and I was seeing the result of Ackermann. And more importantly, why did the steering mount break? After talking to V8Roadsters, it appears the mount was accidentally made of the wrong gauge steel. There were a few subframes made with these incorrect parts, so Flyin' Miata and V8Roadsters are working to determine exactly when they were made and where they went so the problem can be addressed. Boy, am I glad it let go the way it did...
entry 1034 - tags: testing, laguna seca, steering
April 29, 2013 - This is not something you want to see out the windshield.
That's my rear brake rotor. I came down the Corkscrew, hit 4th gear and turned into the fast turn 9. Just before I reached the apex, I heard a bang and the car snapped into a spin at somewhere around 80 mph. My first clue as to what had happened was seeing my right rear wheel rolling along the pavement as we rotated the first time, then we went into the dirt after the second spin. On the dirt, the car lifted a little bit like it was trying to roll, but stayed happy side up as we scrubbed off speed.
A big thumbs up to the track designers - we finished our ride safe and sound without hitting anything but a small drainage ditch. Then it was just a matter of sitting in the car with our helmets on and watching the other cars come around the corner, seemingly aimed directly at us. Finally, all the traffic was cleared and the flatbed showed up.
entry 1083 - tags: crash, failure, laguna seca
April 29, 2013 - This is the least amount of damage you can do if you lose a wheel in Turn 9 at Laguna Seca.
The bumper is just out of place. The exhaust got pulled out of shape and took some of the brackets on the body with it so the trunk floor is probably messed up. The skid plate under the diff is deformed and I want to check the subframe carefully. The front wheel is dented and the rear is all scarred up. But it's almost all bolt-on parts. There's one small dent in front of the missing wheel but otherwise is looks like the tub is untouched. Amazing. I got very, very lucky.
The car's back in the trailer (thanks to the help of Emilio and a number of other onlookers) and heading home to Colorado. I'll drag it out there and take a close look at everything underneath.
entry 1085 - tags: failure, crash, laguna seca